The Langdon & Emison law firm reached a $700,000 settlement with Americorp Xpress Carriers in a suit alleging a tractor-trailer crash was caused by a truck driver with a criminal record, previous driving convictions and a history of drug use.
“Commercial trucking companies assume a significant responsibility to ensure the safety of the motoring public when, by the nature of their business, they put large vehicle on our roadways,” lead attorney Mark Emison stated in a press release . “Americorp did not uphold its responsibility when it employed a dangerous driver with a history of prior accidents and driving violations, and our client paid the price.”
Plaintiff Donald Hagene was allegedly driving northbound on Interstate 57 near Marion in Williamson County in May 2014 when Americorp driver Felipe Valadez hit the rear driver’s-side of the plaintiff’s vehicle with his tractor-trailer.
Hagene’s vehicle allegedly spun to the left and crashed into a sedan that drove ahead of the initial impact. He then crashed into the median, where his vehicle impacted the concrete base of an overhead highway sign.
The collision allegedly occurred while entering a construction zone where the lanes shifted to the left, directing drivers to travel on the shoulder of the road.
Emison said Hagene was adamant that he maintained his lane when Valadez entered his lane. The plaintiff was in the right lane at the time of the collision.
Hagene suffered injuries to his neck and back. He already had a preexisting lower back injury from a work-related incident from the late 1990s. His prior injury included a fusion in his lower back.
The plaintiff alleged the crash exacerbated his back injury, eventually causing him to need surgery in his cervical spine to correct a disc injury. He also alleged the crash loosened the hardware from his prior fusion.
“The sad truth is he’ll be dealing with these injuries for the rest of his life,” Emison said.
“It’s very possible he will need future surgery because of this,” he added.
Emison argued that Americorp was negligent in hiring, supervising and retaining Valadez as a commercial driver.
Valadez allegedly had a criminal record with prior felonies, including a burglary, substantial driving convictions and a history of drug use during the same periods he drove as a commercial driver.
Valadez testified that he intentionally omitted details about his criminal history from his employment application.
Prior to settlement, the defendant denied liability, arguing that the alleged injuries were related to the plaintiff’s preexisting injury. However, Emison said treating doctors testified that Hagene was doing well before the collision.
Valadez originally said Hagene hit him, but he later admitted that he never saw the plaintiff’s vehicle, Emison said.
Emison added that witnesses confirmed that the trucker cut Hagene off.
During litigation, Americorp declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which placed a stay on the litigation and created complexities Langdon & Emison had to navigate to lift the stay.
“The case was drawn out a little bit longer than normal because the defendant declared bankruptcy,” Emison said. “It was a good result for Donald that should help get him back on his feet. It won’t put his life back to the way it was, but it will help him.”
Americorp is a Texas-based trucking company.
Langdon & Emison has offices in Illinois and Missouri.
Americorp was represented by Lashly & Baer PC in Belleville.
St. Clair County Circuit Court case number 15-L-114